From winning the Mercury Prize to altering the musical formula, Alt-J has arrived.
Cambridge-based four-piece Alt-J spent 2012 scooping up the Mercury Prize, releasing their debut album, An Awesome Wave, and gaining plaudits from the music industry at large. The band delivers a unique wave of alternative pop that seamlessly blends tight harmonies with trickling synths and a drop of hip hop. Aesthetica speaks to Joe Newman about their most recent single, Matilda, and their imminent UK tour. www.altjband.com.
Alt-J stands for change; is this reflective of the nature of your band?
Everything changes. I think we acknowledge that change is inherent in the very nature of moving forward and we allow the creative process to lead us forward, so naturally we embrace change. In many ways you have to roll with it, and be very good at spotting opportunities.
Your music draws on folk, hip hop and pop – do you have many sources of inspiration or underlying interests that you return to?
We all draw from different musical genres. Thom grew up on grunge metal, Gwil on rural Cornish clan rap, Gus on late 16th century choral chant, and we all like to sing rounds of traditional folk songs now and again. So our interests vary considerably, but I think this is what ultimately defines our sound.
You’ve been compared to some pretty big names (Wild Beasts, Radiohead and the xx). Does that put a lot of pressure on you?
The band has been working long enough for us to be comfortable within our own skin. We focus on what we do and how we do it, and we only worry about staying creatively agile and keeping people listening and surprised. These comparisons are flattering, but we have confidence in what we are doing.
Your work is cinematic; how do you translate visuals into sound?
My thoughts are most clearly defined in pictures. I find the movement from images to sound to be more of an intuitive translation. However, borrowing ideas and literally describing what you see certainly helps the creative process, but it’s not just cinema – it could be a book or a painting, well anything really.
How would you describe Matilda to someone who hasn’t heard it?
Seeing as I think in pictures, the only way to I know how to describe it in words would be something like: a warm quilt of guitars spread over a gang of farmers fighting ridiculously oversized rabbits.
You’re going on tour again in May. How do you prepare for that?
Some sort of weight training montage. No, seriously, it’s about getting mentally prepared, but really it’s so exciting that it doesn’t take too much preparation.
Apart from winning the Mercury Prize, what were the highlights from 2012?
It was such an incredible year for us, it’s really hard to single one thing out, but I think it has to be finishing our album and playing it to people who love it – without a doubt.
Finally, how did you feel about winning the Mercury Prize?
I was overjoyed and we all allowed that feeling of our first great accomplishment to sink in through heavy celebration. Afterwards, and in earnest, I privately started to think about the second album.